Compiled & Edited By Greg Wilson For Tirk Records 2005
It’s almost 30 years since I did my first basic edits. This was for a demonstration tape I made for local radio, which, as was the way back then, would only be listened to if submitted on reel, rather than cassette, with the tracks shortened to minimal length (the emphasis placed firmly on how I sounded on the microphone, rather than the music I was playing). The guy who taught me how to splice tape was a presenter from Radio Merseyside called Dave Porter, who still works on radio today (nowadays he’s based in the North-East).
However, it wasn’t until 1982 that I began to explore the possibilities of creative editing. By this point I was a successful club DJ in the North of England, working at the best two venues in the region, Wigan Pier and Legend in Manchester, where I played the latest imports (Soul, Funk, Jazz and, of course, the music I became most associated with, Electro). I was also one of the few people in the country to fully embrace turntable mixing and, in May ’82, I was invited by a DJ called Mike Shaft to create specialist black music mixes for his show on Piccadilly Radio, in Manchester. They were the first mixes of their type in the UK and I became known nationally as an innovator of this style. These early radio mixes were as live, recorded onto reel-to-reel at Legend (during the daytime) and topped and tailed back in one of the stations editing booths. At first someone else did this for me, but one day there was nobody available so I had a go myself…
This would be the start of my obsession with editing. Pretty soon I’d decided to invest in a home DJ studio, where I’d subsequently record and edit my mixes. I bought a Revox B77, the best piece of equipment I’ve ever owned, and this, along with a pair of Technics SL1200s (extremely rare to see in a club back then, let alone someone’s home), a Matamp DJ mixer and a cassette deck (for the occasional pause button sample), made up my kit. When I demonstrated mixing live on Channel 4’s music show, “The Tube” in February 1983, I also had the Revox on stage with me (using it for dub/echo effects).
What I was doing was pretty unique from a UK perspective. I had nobody to reference, so I devised my own techniques, some of which had been inspired by innovative US bootleg mixes, especially “Big Apple Production Vol 1”, plus some of the Disconet DJ only series. The first “Kiss FM Mastermixes” LP, released on US Prelude in 1982, would also make a big impression on me.
During the next few years my approach to editing became increasingly intricate. Even after I stopped deejaying in 1984 to concentrate on producing my own tracks, the razor blade remained central to my work, becoming something of a trademark.
In June 84, the Street Sounds “UK Electro” album was released. I worked on all the tracks, bar one, as co-writer and producer. I also mixed them, with editing a key ingredient. This was taken a whole stage further on the three 12” singles that were issued from the album, plus the various ‘mixes’ of the tracks (which were, in effect, re-edits, cut-up sometimes to a major degree). “UK Electro” was the first homegrown Dance project to make a main feature of sampled voices, twelve months before Paul Hardcastle topped the British charts with “19”. Interestingly, the engineer brought over to work with me on the “UK Electro” remixes, a New Yorker called Craig Bevan (who’d recorded with the B Boys), would later collaborate with Steinski on his cut ‘n’ paste classic “The Motorcade Sped On”.
My vinyl debut had actually come the previous year, when Island Records pressed up a mad little edit I’d done of one of their releases, “Heaven Sent” by Paul Haig, as a DJ only promo. To the best of my knowledge this is the first example of a re-edit by a British DJ.
I’d fully utilise my editing skills during the latter part of the 80s and into the 90s, especially on the two Ruthless Rap Assassins albums and the various singles by the Assassins and Kiss AMC. Apart from editing tracks together, the Revox was also used as a sampler of sorts, from which I’d spin sounds I’d recorded onto tape into the tracks I was working on. I compiled numerous reels of ‘spins’ for this purpose, all with gaps between each snippet (much like a sample CD). Even when the Akai revolutionised the whole sampling thing I’d only use it in conjunction with live spins from the Revox. Sometimes a sampler couldn’t quite give you the vibe you got from spinning a sound in. It’s an effect The Beatles used during the mid/late 60s to add texture to their tracks.
I’d cite The Beatles (or more precisely producer George Martin) with the greatest single edit of all time. This is when John Lennon wanted to use the first section of one recording of “Strawberry Fields Forever”, but take the rest of the track from a completely different and more progressive version. His comment to George Martin, when he pointed out the difficulties of pitch and tempo, was
you can fix it. The fixed version is the definitive one that we all know, two recordings perfectly merged together by one decisive splice.
In 1996 I put together my final mix using the Revox (“The Monastic Mix”), recorded for an experimental club night I was involved in called “The Monastery”. This mix, which I worked on in conjunction with a young Liverpool DJ called Matt Shannon, filled one side of a cassette given away on the first night, and has since become regarded as something of a cult-classic by those who got hold of a copy.
I remember that when people would watch me working at the Revox they were amazed to see all the pieces of white splicing tape running past the heads. Sometimes a series of edits were grouped so closely together that all that could be seen was a long stream of white tape whizzing past. I would literally take a ruler and measure a beat, before cutting it up into smaller and smaller fractions. I’d have bits of tape everywhere, bars and beats and bits of beats all marked on the back with a chinagraph pencil so I knew what they were. Having nobody else to refer to, I’d evolved my own madcap system, which made perfect sense to me, but must have seemed completely chaotic to anyone else!
Suffice to say that editing has been a major part of my life. Nowadays my work is computer based and I can do things that would once have taken me hours in just a matter of minutes. Many tape edit effects, which used to be highly complex and time consuming back in those distant days, are now made relatively simple by modern technology. That’s not to say that the craft has gone out of editing, you still have to come up with the ideas and that’s always the most important thing, no amount of technological expertise can make a silk purse from a sow’s ear. However, the precision and speed of computers undoubtedly makes life a lot easier, allowing so many more possibilities than I could have imagined during those countless hours sat over my Revox, blade in hand. There are also things that were impossible when I started out editing, like changing the tempo of a track without changing the pitch. The tools I had at my disposal back then were undoubtedly primitive when compared to what’s available now.
When I made my DJ comeback at Manchester’s “Music Is Better” in December 2003, I prepared a number of edits / mash-ups for the occasion. A couple of these were re-workings of things I’d done 20 years earlier, in my back in the day mixes (both live and on radio), including “Walking On Confusion”, a coupling of New Order’s “Confusion” with the acappella of another Arthur Baker production, “Walking On Sunshine” by Rockers Revenge, which was obviously a favourite during my time at The Hacienda (when “Confusion” was released) and also featured on one of my radio mixes in Sept ’83. Dave Rofe re-created this for the “Viva Haçienda” compilation in 1997. Although he intended it as a tribute, the sleevenotes failed to mention its origin. Nowadays, some of the people who’ve heard the “Music Is Better” mix, assume I got the idea for “Walking On Confusion” from the Haçienda album and are quite surprised to discover it was actually the opposite way round.
As a natural progression from the direction I’d taken with my radio mixes, which had increasingly relied on edits, throughout 1983 and 1984 I was constantly trying to get the record companies in London to let me remix some of their releases. It was a major frustration, for although I knew everyone in the various club promotions departments, their bosses were unprepared to let an untried UK DJ loose with their master tapes – remixing back then, as I was told on a number of occasions, was something done by American DJs, not British ones.
Having banged my head against a brick wall once to often, I eventually took a lateral approach, resulting in my first collaboration with musicians. It was still regarded at the time as an extremely unusual for a British DJ to be making, rather than playing records, the music press picking up on this anomaly. In an experimental make it up as we went along type of way, we’d unwittingly given birth to Street Sounds “UK Electro”, which would be credited to a variety of fictitious names and reach number 60 on the chart following its release in June 1984, heralding the beginning of a new wave of British dance music that would only fully gain momentum later in the decade, with the emergence of acts like M/A/R/R/S, Bomb The Bass, Coldcut and S Express.
After the relative success of “UK Electro”, I’d expected a few doors to begin to open for me on the remix front – but no such luck. Having ‘retired’ from DJ work at the end of 1983, aged 23, leaving behind two of the best black music nights of the era, the decision was beginning to look somewhat misguided. This was certainly true with regards to my financial situation, which was becoming increasingly perilous. It was clear that I had to do something and do it quickly if I was going to keep my head above water.
In a final effort to persuade the record companies to give me a chance, I decided to put together a series of what I would call ‘turntable edits’, in order to demonstrate my potential. I figured that most of the decision makers in the big companies wouldn’t have their ear to the ground when it came to the latest US imports, which I’d featured on my radio mixes, nor understand the spontaneous nature of the “UK Electro” album. Weighing everything up, I thought my best chance of catching their attention was to create my own edited versions of well-known chart hits of the time, so, being already familiar with the original versions, they’d be able to hear what I was doing. With this in mind, I set about compiling a ‘showreel’ of these ‘turntable edits’, which would eventually include Frankie Goes To Hollywood, Depeche Mode, New Order, Scritti Politti, The Eurythmics and Chaka Khan.
Thinking back to this time, I was under immense pressure. With the bills piling up and the realisation that I could lose my car, my home, everything, this was pretty much my final throw of the dice. However, despite all this, I remained ever optimistic that just around the corner it would all come right. I figured that someone, somewhere, realising what I was capable of doing with limited resources, would recognise my ability and finally give me the opportunity I sought.
These ‘turntable edits’ were created at my home in Wigan, using my two SL1200’s and my reel-to-reel. As it turned out, they’d be the last things I’d work on there. They were basically re-edits, but with the additional ingredient of ‘double-ups’ on the turntables, running two copies of the same record, one behind the other, to create repeat effects. The phasing on some of the edits, most notably during Melle Mel’s rap on Chaka Khan’s “I Feel For You”, was achieved by playing two copies of the same record together, a DJ trick I’d previously utilized in a live setting. The ‘delays’ at the end of a couple of the tracks were simply the same tiny snippet edited over and over, with me turning the volume down each time I recorded it. I also employed some additional dub type effects from the Revox.
Unfortunately for me, the anticipated offers of remix work never materialised. Only a handful of people seemed to appreciate what I’d done, including the journalist Dylan Jones (nowadays editor of GQ), who’d been a big supporter of the “UK Electro” project, and Daniel Miller, the head of Mute Records, who promised to put some work my way. I’d naively hoped for a Depeche Mode or Yazoo remix, but the job turned out to be for a little known band on the label called I Start Counting (later to become Fortran 5), for whom I remixed their 1985 single, “Still Smiling”.
By this point my financial problems had already totally engulfed me, resulting in the repossession of my house and my car, plus the sale of my equipment (with the sole exception of my beloved Revox). I hit my lowest point when, having boxed up all of my records, ready to move out, a group of kids got into my house and stole about a third of my precious collection. I called the police to report this, but they weren’t interested in the theft of my records, turning up at my house instead to arrest me for non-payment of rates and putting me in a cell overnight. Talk about bleak!
But, as they say, every cloud has a silver lining and, a generation on, two of these old ‘turntable edits’, Chaka Khan and Scritti Politti, are included here in their original tape-edited form – perfectly linking what I was doing then to what I’m doing now, whilst, at the same time, serving to exorcise a few ghosts from the past.
Nowadays editing is possible for pretty much anyone, providing they have suitable software on their computer and a basic feel for beats and bars. As a result there are countless re-edits appearing on vinyl as DJ’s, well-known and unknown, re-arrange both classic and rare records to create their own variants. This has prompted much debate within the DJ community as to what constitutes a worthy re-edit, what should be left alone, and what rules should apply.
I’m not one for setting things in stone where this subject is concerned, my only real take on what I think should be re-edited and what shouldn’t is completely subjective, based on what would work for me at the type of nights I play at. The fact that it’s got to the point where a label like Tirk finds my work interesting enough for them to want me to compile an album of my own re-edits is obviously a big bonus, as it brings this aspect of my work to a much wider audience, via the support of other DJ’s who find what I’ve done suitable for their own nights. So, if I do have a rule, it’s that I would only re-edit a track that I’d play myself – I couldn’t work on something I didn’t personally like, even if the financial incentive was strong.
The majority of tracks chosen for the Credit To The Edit project were ones I’d already edited and was playing out. The remainder were records I’d wanted to edit, but hadn’t yet got around to doing. I don’t have a set approach, it’s more a matter of cutting your cloth accordingly – sometimes I only use a couple of sections of a track, looping them around and adding overdubs, whilst with others I keep pretty close to the original arrangement, just extending without adding any new elements. Then there”s the ‘wouldn’t, a contemporary term for something I was doing in a live context as soon as acappellas began to appear on dance releases, back in 1982.
There are obviously records I wouldn’t dream of touching, but this wouldn’t necessarily be because they’re well-known. Back in the early 80s, when nearly all the stuff I played was on import, certain tracks would be rush-released in the UK, having initially gone massive on the specialist scene. It was generally these tunes that I’d start to double or triple-up with, to keep them fresh for a few extra weeks, whilst the majority of DJs, who didn’t buy imports, began to pick up on them for the first time, now they’d been released in this country. So, having established a very good relationship with all the club promotions people, I’d get them to send me two or three UK pressings of some releases, so I could do my own live mixes of the tracks. This enabled me to continue to fully support the record through the initial weeks of its British release, a crucial period promotionally. Some of the examples that immediately spring to mind would be “Walking On Sunshine”, D Train’s “You’re The One For Me”, Sharon Redd’s “Beat The Street” and “Last Night A DJ Saved My Life” by Indeep, I’d also do this with certain records that originated in the UK, like Malcolm McLaren’s “Buffalo Gals” and “You Can’t Hide (Your Love From Me)” by David Joseph.
It was as a result of doubling-up the David Joseph 12” that I was asked to appear on The Tube. As part of the promotion for this, his debut single, Joseph, formerly the singer with Brit Funk favourites, Hi Tension, made a personal appearance at Legend (it’s amazing to think that back then we had many PAs from both UK and US artists, all free of charge – the record companies just wanting to get their acts exposure in the right venues). Accompanying him was a researcher from The Tube, who were putting together a dance special on which he was to appear, and, on hearing what I was doing with two copies of the single, I was sounded out about the possibility of coming on the show myself. The track was still totally unknown outside of the black scene here in the UK (Larry Levan would later remix it for the States), but would go on to be a Top 20 hit following the double-dose of exposure it received on the programme – my live mix from Newcastle, using two decks plus the Revox, immediately switching to an outside broadcast from Camden Palace in London, where Joseph performed the track on stage.
Greg Wilson Credit To The Edit Publicity Photograph by Ian Tilton
I suppose that mixing between two or three copies of the same record was like putting together a live edit. Repeat effects. switching between mixes, and using the acappella (when included), enabled you to create your own unique versions, which, obviously, could only be heard at your venues. Often the staff at Spin Inn (the famous Manchester-based import specialists) would be asked for a record, only to be told it was the wrong mix, the customer wanting the non-existent version they’d heard me play!
One thing I wish I’d have done was to pre-record my own edits and play them in the clubs off the Revox. It just never occurred to me at the time, it was only later that I realised that this was exactly what had been happening in New York. I remember watching open mouthed as Arthur Baker took a freshly recorded tape straight out of the studio, before going behind the DJ box at The Funhouse to play it from reel-to-reel in the video to New Order’s “Confusion”. It’s all so obvious now, but we still had much to learn back then – the culture of mixing in its infancy as far as the UK was concerned.
Things have changed in many ways since then. What was mainly centred around New York is now a global industry. The club community is no longer a regional, or even national grouping as, thanks to the internet, people from opposite sides of the world can now exchange opinions and information instantaneously – all a far cry from the way it was two decades ago. I personally feel that, rather than being in decline, as some people believe, dance culture has entered an exciting new era, learning from its past in order to shape its future. Hopefully this album reflects these developments, giving a new twist to some great tunes of old.
Re-editing is something I’d encourage not just DJs, but anyone who enjoys dance music, to have a go at. The programs I’ve used on this compilation are Cool Edit Pro, Acid and Sound Forge, but there are plenty of other software options. I was first attracted to editing because I found it to be great fun, I even used to view it as ‘playing around’ (in the same way I’d play around with a few copies of the same record in a live context). Some people will obviously be more adept than others, the mathematics of editing (knowing where you are with the beats and the bars) is not something that comes naturally to everyone, but, as with anything, if you begin with the simpler things and master those first, the more complex ones will follow. Perhaps you could start off by picking a track that you’ve always liked, apart from one section, then see if you can remove the section without disturbing the flow of the track. If you can do that, you’re on your way.
Thinking of it like this takes me right back to 1982, when I was sitting in the editing booth at Piccadilly Radio, about to embark on the journey that’s now brought me here now, to this album.
Big thanks to the team at Tirk / Nuphonic – Sav, Scott, Matt, Gavin and Lou – for all their effort and energy in making this project happen. Also to Sean P for cleaning up the vinyl on some of the tracks included. Finally, to all the DJs and dancers – thank you for welcoming me back with such warmth and making me feel a part of things again.
© Greg Wilson, 2005